I believe in God
We are taught to say, I believe, not we believe, for two causes:
1. First, because (as we have touched before) in the primitive church this Creed was made to be an answer to a demand or question, which was demanded of every particular man that was baptised; for they asked him thus: What dost thou believe? Then he answered, I believe in God the Father etc. And thus did everyone of years make profession of his faith; and it is likely that Peter alluded hereunto, saying, The stipulation or answer of a good conscience maketh request to God (1 Pet. 3:21).
2. The second cause is: howsoever we are to pray one for another by saying, Our Father etc., yet when we come to years, we must have a particular faith of our own. No man can be saved by another manŐs faith, but by his own, as it is said, The just shall live by his faith (Hab. 2:4). But some will say, this is not true, because children must be saved by their parentsŐ faith. The answer is this: The faith of the parent doth bring the child to have a title or interest to the Covenant of grace, and to all the benefits of Christ; yet doth it not apply the benefits of ChristŐs death, His obedience, His merits and righteousness unto the infant; for this the believer doth only unto himself, and to no other. Again, some may say, if children do not apprehend ChristŐs benefits by their parentsŐ faith, how then is ChristŐs righteousness made theirs and they saved? Answer: By the inward working of the Holy Ghost, who is the principal applier of all graces, whereas faith is but the instrument. As for the places of Scripture that mention justification and salvation by faith, they are to be restrained to men of years; whereas infants dying in their infancy, and therefore wanting actual faith, which none can have without actual knowledge of GodŐs will and Word, are no doubt saved by some other special working of GodŐs Holy Spirit, not known to us.
Furthermore, to believe signifieth two things: to conceive or understand anything, and withal to give assent unto it to be true. And therefore in this place, to believe signifieth to know and acknowledge that all the points of religion which follow are the truth of God. Here therefore we must remember that this clause (I believe) placed in the beginning of the Creed, must be particularly applied to all and every article following. For so the case stands that if faith fail in one main point, it faileth a man in all. And therefore faith is said to be wholly copulative. It is not sufficient to hold one article, but he that will hold any of them for his good, must hold them all. And he which holds them all in shew of words, if he overturn but one of them indeed, he overturns them all.
Again, to believe is one thing, and to believe in this or that is another thing; and it contains in it three points or actions of a believer:
1. To know a thing.
2. To acknowledge the same.
3. To put trust and confidence in it.
And in this order must these three actions of faith be applied to every article following, which concerns any of the Persons in Trinity. And this must be marked as a matter of a special moment. For always by adding them to the words following, we do apply the article unto ourselves in a very comfortable manner. As I believe in the Father, and do believe that He is my Father; and therefore I put my whole trust in Him; and so of the rest.
Now we come to the object of general faith, which is either God or the church; in handling both of which, I will observe this order:
1. I will speak or the meaning of every article.
2. Of the duties which we ought to learn thereby.
3. And lastly, of the consolations which may be gathered thence.
1. Concerning God, three things are to be considered:
(1) And first, by reason of manifold doubtings that rise in our minds, it may be demanded whether there be a God? Many reasons might be used to resolve those that have scruples of conscience; otherwise we are bound to believe that there is a God without all doubting. As for the atheists which confidently avouch there is no God, by GodŐs law they ought to die the death. Nay, the earth is too good for such to dwell on. Malefactors, as thieves and rebels, for their offences have their reward of death. But the offence of those which deny that there is a God is greater; and therefore deserves a most cruel death.
(2) The second point followeth, namely, what God is? Answer: Moses, desiring to see GodŐs face, was not permitted but to see His hinder parts. And therefore no man can be able to describe God by His nature, but by His effects and properties, on this or such like manner: God is an essence spiritual, simple, infinite, most holy. I say first of all, that God is an essence, to shew that He is a thing absolutely subsisting in Himself, and by Himself, not receiving His being from any other. And herein He differs from all creatures whatsoever, which have subsisting and being from Him alone. Again, I say He is an essence spiritual, because He is not any kind of body, neither hath He the parts of the bodies of men or other creatures, but is in nature a spirit invisible, not subject to any manŐs senses. I add also that He is a simple essence, because His nature admits no manner of composition of matter or form of parts. The creatures are compounded of divers parts, and of variety of nature, but there is no such thing in God; for whatsoever thing He is, He is the same by one and the same singular and indivisible essence. Furthermore He is infinite, and that divers ways: infinite in time, without any beginning and without end; infinite in place, because He is everywhere and excluded nowhere, within all places and forth of all places. Lastly, He is most holy, that is, of infinite wisdom, mercy, love, goodness etc., and He alone is rightly termed most holy, because holiness is of the very nature of God Himself; whereas among the most excellent creatures it is otherwise. For the creature itself is one thing, and the holiness of the creature another thing. Thus we see what God is, and to this effect God describes Himself to be Jehovah Elohim; and Paul describes Him to be a King everlasting, immortal, invisible, and only wise, to whom is due all honour and glory for ever (Exod. 3:6,14; 1 Tim. 1:17).
(3) The third point is touching the number of Gods, namely whether there be more Gods than one or not. Answer: There is not, neither can there be any more Gods than one. Which point the Creed avoucheth in saying, I believe in God, not in Gods. And yet more plainly the Nicene Creed, and the Creed of Athanasius, both of them explaining the words of the ApostlesŐ Creed in this manner: I believe in one God. Howsoever some in former times have erroneously held that two Gods were the beginning of all things, one of good things and the other of evil things. Others, that there was one God in the Old Testament, another in the New. Others again, namely the Valentinians, that there were thirty couples of gods. And the heathen people (as Augustine reporteth) worshipped thirty thousand gods. Yet we that are members of GodŐs church must hold and believe one God alone and no more. (Deut. 4:39), Understand this day and consider in thine heart that Jehovah He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath; there is none other. (Eph. 4:5), One God, one faith, one baptism. If it be alleged that the Scripture mentioneth many gods; because (a) magistrates are called gods (Psa. 82:6), (b) Moses is called AaronŐs god (Exod. 4:16), (c) the devil and all idols are called gods (2 Cor. 4:4). The answer is this: They are not properly or by nature gods, for in that respect there is only one God; but they are so termed in other respects. Magistrates are gods because they are vicegerents placed in the room of the true God to govern their subjects. Moses is AaronŐs god because he was in the room of God to reveal His will to Aaron. The devil is a god because the hearts of the wicked would give the honour unto him, which is peculiar to the everlasting God. Idols are called gods because they are such in mensŐ conceits and opinions, who esteem of them as gods. Therefore Paul saith, an idol is nothing in the world (1 Cor. 8:4), that is, nothing in nature subsisting, or nothing in respect of the divinity ascribed to it.
To proceed forward: To believe in this one God is in effect thus much: 1. To know and acknowledge Him as he hath revealed Himself in His Word; 2. To believe Him to be my God; 3. From mine heart to put all mine affiance in Him. To this purpose Christ saith, This is eternal life, to know thee the only God, and whom thou hast sent Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Now the knowledge here meant, is not a bare or general knowledge, or that the devils have, but a more special knowledge whereby I know God not only to be God, but also to be my God, and thereupon do put my confidence in Him.
2. And thus much of the meaning of the first words, I believe in God. Now followeth the duties which may be gathered hence:
(1) First of all; if we are bound to believe in God, then we are also bound to take notice of our natural unbelief whereby we distrust God; to check ourselves for it, and to strive against it. Thus dealt the father of the child that had a dumb spirit (Mark 9:24), Lord (saith he), I believe, Lord help mine unbelief. And David (Psa. 42:11), Why art thou cast down my soul? And why art thou so disquieted within me? Wait on God. And that which our Saviour Christ said once to Peter (Matt. 14:31), men should daily speak to themselves: O thou of little faith. Why hast thou doubted? But some may say, Wherein stands our unbelief? Answer: It stands in two things: (i) In distrusting the goodness of God, that is in giving too little or no affiance to Him; (ii) or in putting affiance in the creature.
(i) For the first, few men will abide to be told of their distrust in God, but indeed it is a common and rife corruption. And though they soothe themselves never so, yet their usual dealings proclaim their unbelief. Go through all places, it shall be found that scarce one of a thousand in his dealings makes conscience of a lie. A great part of men get their wealth by fraud and oppression, and all kinds of unjust and unmerciful dealing. What is the cause that they can do so? Alas, alas, if there be any faith, it is pinned up in some by-corner of the heart, and unbelief bears sway as the lord of the house. Again, if a man had as much wealth as the world comes to, he could find in his heart to wish for another; and if he had two worlds, he could be casting for the third, if it might be compassed. The reason hereof is because men have not learned to make God their portion, and to stay their affections on Him; which if they could do, a mean portion in temporal blessings would be enough. Indeed these and such like persons will in no wise yield that they do distrust the Lord, unless at some time they be touched in conscience with a sense and feeling of their sins, and be thoroughly humbled for the same. But the truth is that distrust of GodŐs goodness is a general and a mother sin, the ground of all other sins, and the very first and principal sin in AdamŐs fall.
(ii) And for the second part of unbelief, which is an affiance in the creatures, read the whole book of God, and we shall find it a common and usual sin in all sorts of men, some putting their trust in riches, some in strength; some in pleasures, some placing their felicity in one sin, some in another. When king Asa was sick (2 Chr. 16:12), he put his whole trust in the physicians, and not in the Lord. And in our days the common practice is when crosses an calamities fall, then there is trotting out to that wise man, to this cunning woman, to this sorcerer, to that wizard, that is, from God to the devil; and their counsel is received and practised without any bones making. And this shews the bitter root of unbelief, and confidence in vain creatures, let men smooth it over with goodly terms as long as they will. In a word, there is no man in the world, be he called or not called, if he look narrowly unto himself, he shall find his heart almost filled with manifold doubtings and distrustings whereby he shall feel himself even carried away from believing in God. Therefore the duty of every man, that will truly say that he believes in God, is to labour to see his own unbelief and the fruits thereof in his life. As for such as say they have no unbelief, nor feel none; more pitiful is their case, for so much greater is their unbelief.
(2) Secondly, considering that we profess ourselves to believe in God, we must every one of us learn to know God. As Paul saith (Rom. 10:14), How can they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without a preacher? Therefore none can believe in God but he must first of all hear and be taught by the ministry of the Word to know God aright. Let this be remembered of young and old, it is not the pattering over the belief for a prayer that will make a man a good believer, but God must be known of us, and acknowledged as He hath revealed Himself partly in His Word, and partly in His creatures. Blind ignorance and the right use of the ApostlesŐ Creed will never stand together. Therefore it stands men in hand to labour and take pains to get knowledge in religion, that knowing God aright, they may come steadfastly to believe in Him, and truly make confession of their faith.
(3) Thirdly, because we believe in God, therefore another duty is to deny ourselves utterly, and to become nothing in ourselves. Our Saviour Christ requires of us to become as little children, if we would believe. The beggar depends not upon the relief of others, till he find nothing at home; and till our hearts be purged of self-love and pride, we cannot depend upon the favour and goodness of God. Therefore he that would trust in God, must first of all be abased and confounded in himself, and in regard of himself, be out of all hope of attaining to the least spark of the grace of God.
(4) Fourthly, in that we believe in God, and therefore put our whole trust and assurance in Him; we are taught that every man must commit his body, his soul, goods, life, yea all that he hath, into the hands of God and to His custody. So Paul saith (2 Tim. 1:12), I am not ashamed of my sufferings, for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day. A worthy saying, for what is the thing which Paul committed unto the Lord? It was his own soul, and the eternal salvation thereof. But what moves him to trust God? Surely his persuasion whereby he knew that God would keep it. And Peter saith (1 Pet. 4:19), Let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. Look as one friend layeth down a thing to be kept of another; so must a man give that he hath to the custody of God. Few or none can practise this, and therefore when any evil befalls them either in body or in goods, or any other way whatsoever, then they presently shew themselves rather beasts than men in impatience. For in prosperity they had no care to put their trust in God, and therefore in adversity when crosses come, they are void of comforts. But when a man hath grace to believe and trust in God, he commits all into GodŐs hands; and though all the world should perish, yet he would not be dismayed. And undoubtedly, if a man will be thankful for the preservation of his goods, or of his life, he must shew the same by committing all he hath into GodŐs hands, and suffer himself to be ruled by Him.
3. Now follows the consolations and comforts which GodŐs church and children reap hereby. He that believes in God, and takes God for his God, may assure himself of salvation and of a happy deliverance in all dangers and necessities. When God threatened a plague upon Israel for their idolatry (2 Chr. 34:27), good king Josiah humbled himself before the Lord his God; and he was safe all his days. And so king Hezekiah (2 Chr. 32:2ff.), when Sennacherib the king of Assyria offered to invade Judah, trusted likewise in the Lord, and prayed unto Him and was delivered. Whereby we see if a man puts his whole trust in God, he shall have security and quietness, as Jehoshaphat said to the men of Judah (2 Chr. 20:20). And our Saviour Christ when He was upon the cross, and felt the whole burden of the terrible wrath of God upon Him, cried (Mark 15:34), My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And it appears in the epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 5:7) that Christ was heard in that He feared; whereby we are given to understand that they shall never be utterly forsaken that take God for their God. And king David, having experience of this, useth most excellent speeches for this end, to shew that the ground of his comfort was that God was his God. And it is said (Dan. 6:22) that Daniel had no manner of hurt in the lionsŐ den because he trusted in the Lord his God. And contrariwise, such as distrust God are subject to all miseries and judgments. The Israelites in the wilderness (Psa. 78:21,22) believed not God, and trusted not in His help. Therefore God was kindled in Jacob, and wrath came upon Israel.